1.2 million World Cup tickets sold, organizers say
About 1.2 million tickets have been sold for this year's World Cup in Qatar, organizers said on Wednesday, putting a figure on sales for the first time.
Chief organizer Hassan Al-Thawadi said there had been "record-breaking" demand for the November-December World Cup, the first held in the Middle East.
"I think about 1.2 million tickets have already been purchased," he told the Qatar Economic Forum.
"So people are actually buying and people are excited to come there. There's no doubt about that."
The figure was confirmed by organizing committee officials, who said there were about 40 million requests in the two phases of online sales.
Two million tickets will be sold in total, with another one million reserved for world body FIFA and sponsors.
The Qatari capital Doha, with a population of about 2.4 million, is bracing itself for the huge influx of visitors, with hotel accommodation extremely scarce.
The 32-team tournament will be held at eight stadiums in and around the capital, putting major pressure on infrastructure.
Qatar says there will be 130,000 rooms in hotels, apartments, cruise ships and desert camps, where there will be 1,000 traditional tents. It has promised shared rooms for as little as $85 a night.
To limit the number of fans, only people with match tickets will be allowed to enter the tiny, gas-rich country during the World Cup, officials announced last month.
More than 160 round-trip shuttle flights a day will bring in fans from neighboring countries, easing the pressure on accommodation, while capacity has been doubled at Doha's two international airports.
But Al-Thawadi admitted it was "tricky" reining in accommodation prices, which are soaring in line with demand.
"(We want to) avoid price gouging," he said. "Obviously market forces always mean that as long as there's a lot of demand, prices skyrocket.
"We're trying to create an environment where the business community benefits but at the same time, it is affordable and accessible for the fans as well."
Al-Thawadi also played down the prospect of protests in Qatar, after steady criticism over the treatment of foreign laborers in a country that has the world's highest GDP per head.
He did not say whether protests would be allowed in Qatar, where demonstrations are rare, or whether fans could brandish the rainbow flag, representing the LGBTQ community.
"Everybody's welcome. But in appreciating where you're coming from, we have a very rich culture. We ask for people to respect our culture," he said.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and authorities are struggling to convince lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer fans that they will be safe.